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Buffalo Bills: Most Loved and Hated Players

To say a player, or any figure in sports, is loved or hated is an opinion-based statement that requires some backing up.
So writing this piece almost ensures that there’ll be some furious fans, regardless of how fully the choices are supported with fact.
Sure, I could have taken the easy road and nominated Ryan Fitzpatrick as both the most hated and most loved of the Bills, but it seemed to be ducking the issue.
However, the evidence for him is truly there. Fitz was 5-2 to start 2011, but finished 1-8 (sure, he had busted ribs, but he had 14 TDs, eight interceptions, and seven sacks the first seven, then had just 10 TDs, with 15 INTs and 15 sacks the last nine).
He was signed to be the steady hand at quarterback for Buffalo through 2017, which was great, but was given far too much for the extension, making him the second highest-paid player on the team behind Mario Williams for 2012 (Ryan has also already collected $15 million in bonuses since signing the extension as well, with another $9 million guaranteed).
He has been coached tremendously by David Lee in the offseason and looked great commanding the no-huddle offense in the preseason, but he’s been reverting to throwing off his back foot under pressure and too often stares down receivers, ignoring an open man in favor of double coverage.
He’s a Jekyll and Hyde player in Buffalo, one moment playing beloved savior, then suddenly becoming a despised reach as the franchise quarterback.
So, rather than go on about Fitz, here are two separate, and I feel solid choices that may start some arguments, but are proper candidates to be sure. Though “hate” and “love” seem strong words, sports fans aren’t usually known for their emotional control, so we’ll just keep them and call them appropriate here. We’ll start on a downer…
Most Hated – Ralph Wilson Jr.
Hall-of-Famer (2009). AFL founder (one of the initial eight members of “The Foolish Club”). One of the driving forces behind the eventual AFL-NFL merger and the LAST original owner to still own his team in the same city (at almost 94).
Ralph Wilson has been the only one signing paychecks in Buffalo since the Bills were created in 1959 and though he’s a commendable business owner and a true lover of football (he loaned money to both Raiders and Patriots to keep them going through the pre-merger, lean years of the AFL), the reason he has to be on this list is that no single player or person in the organization engenders as much animosity as the owner.
Perhaps he’s unjustly vilified, as the ones who worry about the bottom-line so often are, but in a town filled with blue collar, salt-of-the-earth types, having a billionaire that operates his business primarily off of taxpayer dollars is too often seen as a rich man taking welfare checks.
Let’s face it, Mr. Wilson has been and always will be a football lover, but he’s a sly, vicious business man as well, and that’s what turns so many stomachs among fans. When he bought and established the team for a mere $25,000 in 1959 (after being rejected by Miami, that is), he was dedicated to making it a lucrative business and fought to make that AFL-NFL merger happen, seeing the financial stability involved in the decision.
In the end, though, that’s been the problem. Wilson may indeed love football, but he has always been a businessman first and looking back on his history, you find that’s what really grinds a fan’s gears in Buffalo, and that’s why he’s being put here as the Most Hated of the Buffalo Bills.
Look back to Lou Saban, who coached the Bills in the early 60s, improved the team every year, and took them to their first two AFL Championships (earning Coach of the Year honors both times), only to unexpectedly resign in 1966. Though he said it was because “there can be little left to conquer in professional football” (he moved on to coach at the University of Maryland), there were many who still feel it was because Wilson refused Saban a much deserved raise in pay.
Saban returned to Buffalo in 1971, returning a fallen Bills team to some glory by 1975, only to resign once again, this time specifically citing his anger over the debacle that was the re-signing of O.J. Simpson.
That’s just a microcosm of decisions Wilson has made that firmly put profit as a priority over the team. After a third run to the Super Bowl with Bill Polian helming the front office, Wilson abruptly fired Polian as the two butted heads about the handling of the future of the Bills.
Polian assembled what would become a four-time Super Bowl team for Wilson, but when he asked that more be sunk into the franchise to continue, Wilson balked and Polian was out. Though Bill’s now on the Bills’ Wall of Fame (unlike Saban and running back Cookie Gilchrist… why that is I have no idea…), that doesn’t make it up to Buffalo fans, who had to watch Polian go to the Colts and construct one heck of a team there (that looked surprisingly like the 1990s Bills on offense).
Then, there’s the annual rumors of the Bills leaving Buffalo. Business is business, sure, but when you have a fan base aching to know what will happen to their team when their 90+ year old owner dies amidst swirling rumors of relocation, whether it be to Los Angeles or Toronto (the latter a rumor Wilson fueled himself by opting to play one game a year north of the border), you have to wonder how long Ralph’s going to keep people guessing.
Losing the Bills in this area would be a major blow to the city, both emotionally and financially, and Wilson’s family have stated numerous times they’d be uninterested in the team should it pass to them. However, when offers have come to buy the team (sometimes by groups interested in keeping the team where it is), Wilson has staunchly stated the team is not for sale.
Granted, a smart business man has to keep certain secrets, but you’re killing your fan base by giving them no clear idea what will happen in the all too near future.
Other examples spring to mind including a series of horrible coaching hires on the cheap (Dick Jauron, Wade Phillips, Mike Mularkey… all good coordinators, all terrible coaches… oh, and Gregg Williams, currently enjoying an NFL ban) and, more recently, the decision to blackout the first preseason game of 2012 to try and squeeze out some extra money at the gate (always a good idea to punish fans for not going to a scrimmage after years of selling out games in a small market).
Also, when the naming rights for Rich Stadium expired, it was renamed Ralph Wilson Stadium, an ego-stroking move that ignored many financially-lucrative naming offers (maybe not smart business, but keeping in line with Wilson’s history of arrogance).
It’s like he thinks he can be buried with the franchise, like he’s just going to lie down at the 50 yard line and have them fill the place with dirt when he passes.
In the end, the man who once said he “doesn’t think Buffalo can support a pro team” has now started spending money to try and “see [Buffalo] in the playoffs and possibly the Super Bowl” before he sheds the old mortal coil, after years of ignoring pleas by fans to spend money to improve the team.
Where were those sentiments 20 years ago, when the Bills had lost four straight Super Bowls and Wilson’s wallet suddenly dried up? Did Buffalo really have to struggle through more than a decade long playoff drought because Wilson didn’t quite realize his own mortality until the last few years?
Right or wrong, fans have seen Wilson as having no l
oyalty to fans or employees, a self-centered conceit about his ownership of the team, and a dedication to the almighty dollar that continually trumps his love for football (and Buffalo). He is often fingered by fans as the sole reason for Buffalo’s long standing joke-status in the NFL, preferring to do what is better for his bank account than what is good for the team itself, working to improve the league, but not his own franchise. Though it’s great he’s finally spending some money (quoted in March, Ralph said he realized, “I can’t take the money with me”… duh…), it’s kind of like getting a quick confession in on your deathbed because you realized you might not get into heaven otherwise. 
Wilson doesn’t want his legacy to be marred by his past missteps and tight purse strings  with the team, but to many fans who do hate him above all others on the team, it’s too little, too late.
Most Loved – Brian Moorman
Though getting a much smaller write-up than Wilson did above, punter Brian Moorman’s following is both large and fierce in Buffalo.
What other franchise has ever had a market for their punter’s jersey outside of, maybe, Oakland Hall-of-Famer Ray Guy or Shane Lechler in New York? Moorman’s a rock star in Buffalo; talented, gregarious, loyal, and much more athletic, visible, and known than your average leg-man.
Why such love? Well, for starters, Moorman is entering his 12th NFL season and they are all with Buffalo, making him the longest tenured name currently on the team, a loyalty mirrored by fans in Western New York. In that time, his average per punt has never dipped below 40.8 yards (2007), with a net average of 36 yds or higher in every year save his first (33.8).
His consistent skill over the years has been astounding, with two seasons of 30+ punts that landed inside the 20, seven seasons with 20+, as well as only two blocks in his entire career.
He has never missed a game (that’s 176 regular season starts), has displayed a startling ability to make plays defending his own kicks, rarely avoiding contact as other kickers do (he has nine tackles in his career), and even has a couple TDs to his name off fakes (he’s 3-7 in the passing game all told).
This is a guy who, in 2002, kicked a ball 84 yards and had an 80-yarder two years later. A punter who competed in the 2006 Pro Bowl Skills Competition during his second straight Pro Bowl.  A punter.
If you go to a home game, you’re likely to run into the rabid members of Moorman’s Army, proud to wear their No. 8 jerseys alongside such classic choices as Jim Kelly or Bruce Smith. In the dark decade or so since the Bills’ last playoff appearance, Moorman has undoubtedly been the shining light on the team, the high point of many a bad season.
On top of that, he’s just a class act, even when he was demolished by free safety Sean Taylor in the 2006 Pro Bowl game (he was knocked back on a three yard fake run on 4th down, flying back through the air as far as he’d run, but was quickly up and congratulating Taylor on the smack down).
Last season, at age 35, Moorman managed a personal high 48.2 yards per punt and this season, has seemed to perfect a new wrinkle to his game, fully adopting a new “Aussie” kicking style to pin teams back inside their 20 (rather than spiraling the ball, the Aussie style drops the ball point first, resulting in an end-over-end kick that will usually bounce back, preventing a touchback).
In the 2012 preseason, Moorman already has impressed by putting four of his first five punts against the Redskins inside the 20 and averaging 43 per punt in the first two games.
It’s a good thing he seems to be still operating at such a high level, as his contract is set to expire at the end of the upcoming season and the Bills have been auditioning a new leg in case wear starts to show, bringing in rookie Shawn Powell from Florida State.
However, though Powell has been showing more power (an average 47.9 per punt, with a 55 and 54 yard kick thus far), he doesn’t have the skill set and experience Moorman has to this point, so there’s still a chance we might see Moorman retire in a Bills jersey, maybe getting a couple more years added on before his deal is up.
Good thing, too, as there are very few players, especially punters, that  get such universal love from their fan base. Hopefully, with that much support from fans, it seems a given we’ll be seeing Moorman’s name on the Wall of Fame someday at the Ralph… and maybe see a bust in Canton as well.
There you go, one to love, one to hate, Bills fans.
Let the disagreement begin.
Joshua Bauer is a writer with Football Nation
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  • elmdog

    Why Does anyone get excited about 3 pretty good passes by this QB ? Is that all we expect- he has no arm that can last a whole game – 25 to 30 yard ropes should be the norm for a starting QB not a gift for us ……. Chan Gailey saying that the last drive deflated the Bills is embarrassing, that means he is not a good coach … These are grown professional athletes who should be treated at so …. We scored on them and it didn’t deflate the steelers , actually made them stronger and tougher ….. Sad ….

  • Styler

    No hate for Ralph. He’s shown loyalty to Buffalo who, despite being an excellent football market, is an absolutely abysmal economic environment. No doubt that huge financial offers for his team (for both purchase and/or relocation) have been too numerous to comprehend. He often seems to be the voice of reason amongst greedy owners (see last CBA) and has often championed the cause of the small market team. I just wish he could finally see his team achieve the ultimate triumph!

  • ByronBrownsTie

    Another stellar post by Josh Bauer, the wonder journalist. Brian Moorman is the Most Loved Buffalo Bill?
    You don’t have the slightest idea of what you are talking about do you? You just kind of make it up as you go along, right?

  • Josh Bauer

    I stand by Moorman without reservation.
    Also, you may not understand how writing works, but what you do is take an idea and make it up as you go along using facts and argument to support your idea, writing it out, which, as you write the words, kind of also gets made up as you go along, turning blank paper into the idea that you made up in your head… so I guess the answer is yes, I do make this up as I go along.
    Thank you for continuing to read and I look forward to reading more of your posts, as you seem like you have alot of time on your hands and will be checking back for my material again in the future.

  • benfranklin

    The bigger issue for the Bills is that the punter…the punter…is even in the argument for most popular player. Don’t shoot the messenger.

  • RRRumsey

    What Brian Moorman has done for this area off the football field makes him The “Most Loved” Buffalo Bill. His tireless work for a number of local charities, including his own, is what makes this man a true Buffalonian. Sure, he is also a top-notch multiple Pro Bowl punter on a special teams squad that is frequently the only positive element of a team with a inconsistant offense and defense as of late. Thanks, Brian Moorman.
    Josh, great article….you hit the nail on the head.

  • Josh Bauer

    Thanks. Personally, I think what position you play has nothing to do with how much love you deserve. Jackson is a favorite around here, and Mario was getting buckets of love before even playing a snap, but based on his loyalty and consistency and, yes, his great work in the community, Moorman definitely deserved to be called most loved.

  • Josh Bauer

    I feel that I should have mentioned Moorman’s PUNT foundation, which works with Roswell (among others) to help support and bring awareness to pediatric cancer patients. Here’s the link:
    http://www.brianmoorman.org/
    Also, in 2010, he started Moorman’s Miracles, giving 20 season tickets to Carly’s Club and providing free food and drinks to the children who attended games.
    His work with children in the area is extraordinary and should be applauded much more than his play on the field.

  • Josh Bauer

    Thanks. Personally, I think what position you play has nothing to do with how much love you deserve. Jackson is a favorite around here, and Mario was getting buckets of love before even playing a snap, but based on his loyalty and consistency and, yes, his great work in the community, Moorman definitely deserved to be called most loved.

  • ByronBrownsTie

    “Also, you may not understand how writing works…” Call me out when you have more than one journalism award, Joshy. We can compare.
    My point is that you make a blanket proclamation about Brian Moorman being the most loved Bill — which is fine, if that is what you feel. But nowhere in your lead do you say that you’re writing about and limiting your diatribe to a current player. It isn’t until questioned, pushed and prodded by your readers do you then support your statements by discussing his community based efforts. Based on what your article stated — he’s the most loved Bill because he has a strong leg. If that’s your argument, you might as well add Rian Lindell into that mix as well. His stats are equally impressive, as is his community outreach.
    And, since you like to use “facts” quite a bit – all of his 12 seasons in the NFL weren’t with Buffalo. Although undrafted, he spent the 1999-2000 season as a member of Seahawks, albeit practice squad only.
    And yes, I will keep reading — not because I enjoy what you have to say so much, as I love being at the top of a tree and watching the grass grow.

  • Josh Bauer

    Please, give me the opportunity to read some of your work outside of posting comments, as I would indeed love to see how to better myself through solid examples. You attack so wuickly in your posts here, but i still have no idea who you are or where to find your work for comparison.
    as for the title, I would again like to point out that i unfortunately dont always control pics OR headlines.
    i believe my thoughts on Moormans worth were sound and though i was remiss in mentioning his charities, based on stats and fan popularity, he is the right choice… not ALL TIME of course ( though i believe it was made clear in the first few paragraphs, if not ill do better next time).
    out of curiosity mr tree top, who would you have chosen.

  • Josh Bauer

    Also… i know he was drafted by Seattle, but as he didnt play there at all and acrued no stats in his time there’s, I felt it fine not to mention it… apparently i was wrong

  • FTheRedTape

    Hilarious. I’ve been wondering for a while why BR continues to post this blather.
    No offense, Josh, but you’ve simply got to clean up your stream-of-consciousness writing. I understand that Buffalo Rising does not pay and that you are quite literally hacking these stories up for fun, but you have to realize that you are getting good exposure — this is a high-traffic site. Do yourself a favor and print these blog posts out before you send them along for publication. Then, get a red pen and give yourself some serious copyediting. When you are done cleaning up the wild disregard for AP Style — or any writing style, for that matter — ask yourself, “Is there a clear and concise point to my story?”
    Again, I’m not trying to totally attack you — just sending along my advice (I’ve worked in the business for quite a while).

  • Josh Bauer

    Appreciate the post. Agree. To be fair, I am trying and feel like I’m taking constructive criticism. If given enough time, the hope is that most of it comes out halfway decent. Get back to me in a few more.